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Faulty Woolf? Exploring the Fault Lines of Virginia Woolf’s Heritage in the British Statue Wars

Qui a peur des fautes de Virginia Woolf ? Une exploration des lignes de faille de l’héritage woolfien et de la guerre des statues en Grande-Bretagne
Valérie Favre


Cet article explore comment Virginia Woolf est devenue la figure de proue de positions contradictoires, personnifiant les différentes lignes de faille politiques qui parcourent la sphère publique au Royaume-Uni. En se concentrant sur les campagnes en faveur des statues de femmes et sur la guerre des statues à laquelle Woolf a été mêlée en 2022, on y examine l’articulation entre la réception contemporaine de l’autrice et les fractures intersectionnelles du genre, de la classe et de la race qui imprègnent la culture britannique à l’ère de #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #TransLivesMatter. Ce faisant cet article propose une réflexion sur les lignes de faille qui divisent héritage littéraire et zeitgeist culturel et politique, en s’intéressant à la cristallisation qui s’opère autour de la prétendue « cancel culture ». Enfin, il évoque comment la réflexion que Virginia Woolf mène sur les statues et la commémoration des « grands hommes », voire des « grandes femmes », éclaire, non sans ambivalence, nos débats contemporains.

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[T]he more people think V.W. a statue, chill, cold, immaculate, inapproachable,—a hermit who only sees her own set—the more free I myself am to be myself.
(Woolf [1931] 1978, 368–69)

1In her 1931 essay devoted to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and to her 1856 epic-poem-cum-female-Künstlerroman, Aurora Leigh, Virginia Woolf argues: ‘her “intention” survives; the interest of her theory redeems much that is faulty in her practice’ (Woolf 2009, 524). Ninety years later, I would like to wonder to what extent that statement, as well as its reversed alternative—the interest of her practice redeems much that is faulty in her theory—could apply to the contemporary reception of Virginia Woolf herself.

  • 1 See for instance A. S. Byatt, Passions of the Mind (1991), Rachel Cusk, Coventry (2019), Maggie Gee(...)
  • 2 These issues, and most specifically the question of Woolf, Bloomsbury, and racism, have recently be (...)

2That Woolf’s literary and feminist intentions have survived well into the 21st century is a statement that would be hard to disprove (see, among many other works, Latham, Marie and Rigeade, Dubino, Pająk, Hollis, Lypka and Neverow, Favre) yet the long and winding fault lines between theory and practice, success and failure, merit and flaws, permeate her contemporary heritage. In the past thirty years many British artists and writers—such as A. S. Byatt, Rachel Cusk, Maggy Gee, Ali Smith, or Kabe Wilson—have repeatedly evoked this tension, highlighting at times Woolf’s aptness, at times her faults.1 Likewise, Anglo-American Woolfian scholars have engaged, for many years now, not only with Woolf’s triumphant feminism, her inclusive poetics, anti-imperialist and pacifist politics, but also with Woolf’s racial, social, gendered, and sometimes intersectional ‘offences’, and ‘offensiveness’ (see Lee, McMacnus, Cheney).2 As for Woolf’s presence in the public sphere, it has been marked by this tension for decades now, but in the past few years this phenomenon seems to have intensified, so much so that Woolf has become the figurehead of contradictory positions, which embody the various political fault lines that polarise British public debate and divide British society in the age of #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #TransLivesMatter.

3‘So who was the real Virginia Woolf? And how did she become such an iconic feminist figurehead?’, pondered Maria Alvarez in The Guardian in 2003, following Nicole Kidman’s Academy Award for her performance as Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. Alvarez’s answer is but another set of provocative questions which highlight Woolf’s fraught iconicity as an upper-class woman, a feminist, and a novelist:

We may be no closer to agreeing what Woolf means, however. Feminist icon or snobbish Bloomsbury bitch? Sister to all women or cosseted daughter of the establishment? A great writer and coy feminist, or a feminist treasure but questionable novelist? (Alvarez)

  • 3 On ‘gender-critical feminism’, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, and anti-trans activism, see Sa (...)

4About twenty years later these contesting ‘versions’ of Woolf, as well as her ever-evolving ‘versioning’ (Silver 13), still pervade the British media. Recently, Woolf’s work has been contradictorily evoked in The Guardian around the issue of transgender identity and of the transgender rights movement. In 2018, Jeanette Winterson published an article headlined ‘“Different sex. Same person”: how Woolf’s Orlando became a trans triumph’, in which she argued that Woolf’s 1928 novelistic love letter to Vita Sackville-West, Orlando, was none other than ‘the first English language trans novel’ (Winterson). At the other end of the feminist spectrum, Guardian journalist, and self-proclaimed ‘gender-critical feminist’,3 Susanna Rustin, published in September 2020 an article entitled ‘Feminists like me aren’t anti-trans—we just can’t discard the idea of “sex”’, in which she surprisingly—to say the least—refers to Woolf’s 1929 essay, A Room of One’s Own, in order to discard the idea of gender and reassert what Rustin thinks should be the primacy of biological sex (Rustin). More recently, Woolf’s Orlando ranked third in the ‘Top 10 trans love stories’, published in May 2022 in The Guardian (John Joseph). However, Lauren John Joseph opens the section she devotes to Woolf’s novel, with three questions which highlight the intersectional fault lines that characterise and split Woolf’s heritage, in terms of gender, class, race, and sexuality:

How could I not include this keystone of queer literature? Perhaps because of the rampant racism and the abhorrent snobbery? Perhaps because the mere mention of dear Ginny from a trans person brings down blanket accusations of lesbian erasure? Though I can’t ignore (or excuse) any of this, I do think that (re)reading Orlando today offers us an opportunity to reappraise our literary heroes, and, indeed, the canon itself. Plus, Orlando is surprisingly hilarious, and you get not one but two steamy love affairs across the centuries. (John Joseph)

5The issue of ‘reapprais[ing] our literary heroes’ has indeed become a topical question in contemporary British culture, and Woolf is far from being immune to that process. Besides the sex/gender fault line that divides contemporary feminisms and contemporary readings of Woolf’s work and of Woolf as a public figure, Woolf’s name was recently drawn into the public debate over the racial fault line that divides contemporary Britain. Indeed, in February 2022, Woolf made her appearance in several newspapers, including The Times and The Telegraph, as following the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, in June 2020, Camden Council launched a review of its local monuments and memorials. Two years later, Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury bust in Tavistock Square, which, interestingly enough, had been enlisted as a LGBTQ+ landmark by The Evening Standard in 2018 (Abrahams), ended up, as The Times put it, on ‘[a] racism list’ (Beal).

6In this article I endeavour to examine how the fault lines—both in the sense of ‘fractures’, or ‘cracks’, and in the sense of ‘failings’, be they moral or political—that pervade Woolf’s contemporary heritage run alongside the intersectional fault lines of gender, class, and race that permeate what some consider to be the contemporary British culture wars (see Duffy et al.). I will focus on Woolf’s entanglement in both the campaign for women’s statues and the statue wars, before exploring how Woolf’s own take on statues and public commemorations can shed light on our contemporary questioning of the memorialisation of ‘great (wo)men’.

7In 2008, radical feminist thinker Germaine Greer published a piece in The Guardian in which she stated: ‘Monumental effigies of women are rare. The city fathers of London prefer even their abstractions to be male’ (Greer). Abstract or figurative, fictional or historical, statues of women remain a rare treat in British public spaces. In 2016, feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez—author of the feminist best-seller Invisible Women (2019)—sorted out by gender all the statues registered in the UK national database of the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association: out of the 925 statues gathered there, she determined that ‘[o]nly 158 of those were of women who merit a statue that stands on its own’, and that 29 of those were statues of Queen Victoria (Criado-Perez). Since then various initiatives have flourished. The collective ‘InVISIBLE Women’, which defines itself as a ‘catalyst for gender equality in civic statues in the UK’ (InVISIBLE Women Collective), was launched in 2016, and has since supported multiple campaigns for women statues. In April 2018, thanks to Criado Perez’s campaigning, a statue of suffragette Millicent Fawcett joined the 11 statues of men that populate Parliament Square. In November 2020 a highly controversial statue, by sculptress Maggi Hamblong, of a tiny, naked, and silvery Mary Wollstonecraft was unveiled in London. In 2022, on the international day of women’s rights, the statue of Virginia Woolf’s dear friend, composer and suffragette, Ethel Smyth, made its appearance in Woking (Surrey), where she had spent the last decades of her life.

8As for Virginia Woolf herself, her first full-figure and life-sized statue, by sculptress Laury Dizengremel, was unveiled in Richmond on 16 November 2022. Sitting on a public bench overlooking the Thames, gently smiling, Woolf’s statue seems to be inviting passers-by to sit next to her, in a democratic gesture that encourages connection and subverts the much more traditional—and hierarchical—plinth and statue combination (see Dizengremel quoted in Guest). If this Woolf statue has received an overwhelmingly positive response, the project had encountered various ups and downs over the years. It notably attracted a surprising amount of donations right after the controversy around Wollstonecraft’s statue—perhaps, on account that Woolf’s statue, contrary to Wollstonecraft’s, was to be fully dressed. Still, in 2021 as Richmond Council launched a consultation on the project, in which they interestingly described Woolf as ‘a woman writer, feminist and LGBTQ+ icon’, it appeared that some participants judged its intended location ‘inappropriate’ (Richmond Council) or, as The Guardian put it, ‘insensitive’ (Taylor), as the banks of the river Thames may remind us of Woolf’s suicide. Another issue was raised in 2020 by author and scholar Claire Hynes who stated that if Woolf, just like Wollstonecraft, indeed deserved statues of their own, ‘[b]oth were born into privilege and steeped in empire’ before arguing that ‘Britain’s outstanding black women deserve to be honoured too’ (Hynes). Indeed, it would appear that until 2016 and the unveiling of the memorial to Jamaican born nurse Mary Seacole, there was only one statue of a named, non-white woman in the UK, in the form of a bronze memorial to Pocahontas, erected in 1975 in Kent (see Weston).

  • 4 On these highly topical questions, see also La disgrâce des statues : Essai sur les conflits de mém (...)

9The multiple campaigns for women’s statues which have flourished in Britain for the past few years are first and foremost grounded on the gender fault line, and only rarely address the social and racial fault lines which fracture British culture. On the contrary, what has become known as the statue wars mostly hinges on the issue of race and lies at the crossroads of the British colonial past—or post-colonial present—and the shortcomings of its multicultural ideal. As historian Madge Dresser states: ‘[e]ven dead statues have the power to provoke . . . [for they] may be petrified personifications of the past, but audiences and associations change’ (Dresser 164), while Jenny Gregory, in her recent article entitled ‘Statue Wars: Collective memory reshaping the past’ highlights how in recent years ‘monuments and their destruction have become emblematic of social unrest’ (Gregory 566).4 Indeed, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the toppling in June 2020 of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol—which led to the unauthorised and short-lived installation of a statue representing Jen Reid, a female BLM activist (Bland)—sparked a nationwide debate and led to multiple initiatives aimed at reckoning with imperialism, slavery, and racism. As early as June 2020, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced the creation of a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, whose mission was to increase ‘representation among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, women, the LGBTQ+ community and disability groups’ (Mayor of London Press Release). Various London boroughs launched commissions and consultations of their own in the following weeks and months, including The City of London, Westminster, and Camden, where Virginia Woolf’s bust in Tavistock Square is located.

10The Woolf bust in question is a copy of an original plaster bust made by sculptor and Bloomsbury acolyte Stephen Tomlin, in July 1931, for whom Woolf endured several days of sitting—rather unwillingly and painfully if we trust the account she provides of what she thought of as the ‘Tomlin horror’ (Woolf (1935) 1979, 378), during which she ‘waste[d] afternoon after afternoon perched in his ratridden and draught-riddled studio’ (Woolf (1931) 1978, 360). The original plaster bust now sits in Charleston, two of its copies can be found at Monk’s House, another one at The National Portrait Gallery, and last but not least, a bronze cast of the bust was erected as a memorial to Virginia Woolf in Tavistock Square in 2004, by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain. Below that bust one can currently read the following indication ‘Virginia Woolf lived in a house formerly on the South side of Tavistock Square from 1924 to 1939 where most of her greatest novels were written and published’, as well as the following quotation taken from ‘A Sketch of the Past’: ‘Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To the Lighthouse; in a great, apparently involuntary, rush’ (Woolf 2002, 92).

11In its 2013 guide to ‘Artworks and memorials in parks, open spaces and the public realm’, Camden Council stated that public art ‘can help us to reflect on and remember the lives and experiences of those who live or once lived in the borough, commemorate events of importance, provide reminders to the historical and social past or simply enhance an area and the aesthetic value people derive from it’ (Camden Council 2013, 2), it then evokes Woolf’s bust as an example of such artworks and memorials. Seven years later, in June 2020, Camden Council’s leader Georgia Gould declared:

We have seen across the country that some statues, monuments and place names are causing real pain and grief right now for communities. I myself feel very uncomfortable that certain figures are on a pedestal when what they stand for is so incompatible with our values and, in some cases, inextricably linked to racist brutal oppression. (Camden Council 10 June 2020)

12She then announced the creation of cross-party review group, the leader of which, Abdul Hai, made a first public statement one month later:

The review . . . will consider memorials and statues in the borough and make . . . recommendations . . ., considering the contributions of memorialised individuals to their field, context from the era they lived and whether those are outweighed by their involvement in imperialism and other forms of oppression. (Camden Council 10 July 2020)

  • 5 A 2017 YouGov survey showed that these three newspapers are perceived as right-wing—by 81% of the r (...)

13About two years later, on 15 February 2022, Craig Simpson published an article in The Telegraph entitled ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Author drown into statue row as council reviews her memorial’. Six more articles were to follow, in The Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Express, and in the British online magazines, The Critic and UnHerd.5 The unrepentantly clickbait headlines of which read as such: ‘Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury bust put on racism list’ (Beal), ‘The Times View on Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury Bust: Culture Clash’ (Anon), ‘Woke Councillors are the Woolf at the door’ (Whale), ‘Virginia Woolf shouldn’t be cancelled—her influence has been overwhelmingly benign’ (Kerridge), ‘Virginia Woolf predicted her own cancellation’ (Lloyd), and ‘We should be afraid of Virginia Woolf’ (Peacock).

14As a researcher who’s been approaching Woolf’s work and its reception, as well as Woolf’s figure and her iconisation, through an intersectional feminist perspective for the past few years, but, also, as a white, cisgender, woman researcher who is aware of the privileged position from which she reads Woolf and studies her heritage, reading these titles filled me with unease. Unease at the simplistic portrayal they sketch of Virginia Woolf, of her life, and of her work, unease at the simplistic portrayal they sketch of Camden’s endeavour, and of the issues this endeavour addresses, and, last but not least, unease at my own uneasiness. Reading the articles did not make me feel any more comfortable.

15Most of these articles remind us that Woolf was an important feminist thinker and writer (Simpson, Kerridge, Beal, Lloyd, Peacock), others highlight that she suffered, and survived, mental breakdowns (Kerridge) and sexual abuse (Beal), some of them specify that she eventually killed herself (Anon, Beal, Kerridge, Simpson). In six of those seven articles, Woolf is presented as a Great, English, Modernist, Novelist—capital letters intended—, in other words as some sort of a literary monument whose memorial in Tavistock Square should be left undisturbed. On the contrary, Francesca Peacock in her article entitled ‘We should be afraid of Virginia Woolf’ argues that ‘if Camden Council is truly wanting to improve the “inclusivity” of their range of statues, Woolf should be the first to go’. Peacock articulates two arguments to prove her point: first, that Woolf was a bad novelist: ‘there are plenty of people . . . who would advocate removing the statue for her lack of literary ability’; second, that she was a snob whose work only speaks of, and to, the upper classes—the gist of Peacock’s reasoning being that as Woolf disdained the common people, she wouldn’t have wanted a public memorial: ‘Woolf herself might not have appreciated such a commemoration [. . . for she was] ambiguous about courting mass appeal’ (Peacock).

16The British social fault line thus enters the debate, as the issue of Woolf’s relation to the lower classes makes its appearance even in the articles which defend Woolf’s memorial over Camden’s reviewing endeavour. The journalists draw our attention to Woolf’s ‘elitism’ and ‘snottiness’ (Peacock), to her failure at ‘enter[ing] the mind of a member of the working classes’ (Lloyd), and to the fact that ‘some regard [Woolf’s] focus on an upper-middle-class milieu as parochial’ (Kerridge). ‘What is striking’, to borrow Hermione Lee’s 1995 statement, ‘about the current attack on Virginia Woolf for offensiveness is that there is nothing new in it. . . . The class attack on Virginia Woolf, or the enlisting of her name to make a point about British social divisions, has persisted in this country for half a century’ (Lee 1995, 132)—that is, most of a century now. What is less common, as far as the public reception of Woolf is concerned in the UK, is the issue of race—which, quite tellingly, Hermione Lee barely evokes in her 1995 piece on ‘Woolf and Offence’ (see Lee 1995). These recent articles evoke in turn the fact that Woolf blackened her face in order to take part in the Dreadnought Hoax (Anon, Beal, Simpson), that she is ‘claimed by some to have held racist views’ (Beal), and criticised by others ‘for the use of racial epithets such as “n-----”’ (Simpson). Still, only one of them goes as far as asking ‘Was she a racist?’ and answers the following: ‘In the sense that almost every prominent writer of her generation either made racist remarks, or wrote racist things, I suppose she was’ (Lloyd).

17That both Woolf and her writings are complex and ambivalent is not a point that these articles make, instead they mostly rely on the idea that the literary past should be left untroubled by our contemporary concerns. As such they clearly sketch another set of fault lines: between literature and public debate, and between literary heritage and cultural, or political, zeitgeist:

Enough. It is to the good that British society is more sensitive than it was a generation ago, let alone a century ago, to issues of race. It is also integral to historical research and literary criticism to revise reputations. But it is absurd to reduce Woolf’s significance to the question of how far she exemplified the tastes of Camden’s contemporary inquisitors. She was first and foremost an artist. (Anon)

18If the dissociation that is implicitly established here between the arts, or the artists, and politics, strikes me as overly simplistic—if not entirely faulty—it is the explicit dissociation between historical research and literary criticism on the one hand, and on the other the public sphere, that I would like to address. Scholars have been pondering on Woolf’s failings for decades now, they have refused to set Woolf or her texts in stone, they have addressed the blind spots of her thinking and tackled the issues, such as racism and classism, that pervade her writings. In other words, as Matthew Cheney puts it: they have tried to figure out ‘what . . . [to] do with Woolf’s offenses’ (see Cheney). Why refuse to let this complex, composite, and, at times, morally, and politically, faulty Woolf enter the public domain? The answer is blatantly present in the rhetorical strategies these articles put into use. The Daily Express article, for one, is a poorly written diatribe in which Woolf’s bust is but a pretence that enables its author to rant against Camden Council, and argue that their review of public monuments is ‘one of the most stupid, time-wasting exercises going on anywhere’ (Whale). The anti-woke stance of that piece is met in several other articles by the ‘cancel culture’ rhetoric, that is notably used in The Telegraph (Kerridge) and in the online magazine UnHerd (Lloyd), while The Times anonymous leading article turns Camden’s review into a contemporary inquisition and demands that Woolf’s bust ‘be left in peace’ (Anon).

19Interestingly, only three of the seven articles (Anon, Beal, Simpson) evoke the fact that Camden Council, contrary to what the other articles imply, do not intend to remove Woolf’s bust, but rather as Craig Simpson states in the first article that was published on the matter: ‘to attach QR codes to monuments which tourists can scan with their phones to be told about the potentially fraught legacies of the people the statues represent’ (Simpson). One may wonder if attaching a QR code to a statue can really be thought of as disturbing Woolf’s peace, tarnishing or ‘cancelling’ her and her works. One may find an answer to that very question in Erica Delsandro’s recent take on Woolf’s scholarly reappraisal, in her article entitled ‘Notes on Bristling’, in which Delsandro explores the multifaceted perspectives from which Woolf is now being studied and argues: ‘Woolf is not being cancelled. This is not cancel culture. . . . Woolf is being complicated’ (Delsandro). I would contend that, despite her faults, Woolf is worth this complication, both within and outside academia, that is: both in theory and in practice. Especially as Woolf’s faults may often, also, be ours, as Matthew Cheney highlights, when, recalling his first confrontation as a student with Woolf’s racism, he writes: ‘Aghast at Woolf’s racism, we had . . . not sought to let her limits illuminate our own, instead had kept our criticism distant, leaving it to be a criticism of her, the long-dead woman from another continent, not ourselves’ (Cheney 3–4), thus pointing out the critical need—in every possible sense of the word ‘critical’—to engage with Woolf’s shortcomings in order to better understand ours.

But could Woolf’s own take on statues shed light on our own?
Hermione Lee states in her biography of Woolf that ‘[b]eing sculpted by Stephen Tomlin . . . made her think of herself as an image, a thing: she hated it. . . . She could not bear to be pinned down and fixed’ (Lee 1997, 622).

20Indeed, in August 1931, just a few days after sitting for Tomlin, Woolf wrote in her diary:

Then I sat to Tommie. Oh dear, what a terrific hemp strong heather root obstinate fountain of furious individuality shoots in me—they tampered with it, Nessa & Tommy—pinning me there, from 2 to 4 on 6 afternoons, to be looked at; & I felt like a piece of whalebone bent. (Woolf 1982, 36–37)

21The personified natural images that Woolf accumulates here build up a composite, evasive, and fluid figure that contrasts with the materiality of Woolf’s bust, and points to her rejection of the rigidified memorialisation it presaged. As Diane Gillespie argues in ‘A City in the Archives: Virginia Woolf and the Statues of London’: ‘Woolf’s fluidity disrupts power hierarchies and patriarchal values expressed in statuary’ (66). One may indeed wonder if a land-art, biodegradable sculpture—made of hemp, heather root, water, and unbent whalebone—could be truer to Woolf’s poetical and political vision, and fulfil her wish ‘not [to] settle into a figure’ (Woolf 1982, 85).

  • 6 In her article on the intertextual relations between Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003) and Virginia Wo (...)

22In the following year, between December 1931 and December 1932, as a critic and journalist ‘who self-consciously both espouse[d] and shape[d] opinions in a public forum’ (Dubino 25), Woolf published several articles in the Good Housekeeping magazine, which are now gathered in The London Scene collection. In one of them, ‘Oxford Street Tide’, Woolf writes ‘We knock down and rebuild as we expect to be knocked down and rebuilt’ (Woolf (1932) 2013, 24). As Christine Reynier argues in her recent monograph on this series of essays, in these texts Woolf ‘denounces . . . history as “monumentalisation”, as embalming the famous politicians or writers and giving them an eternal life, endlessly celebrating their greatness and enlarging their stature and grandeur’ (Reynier 147). More specifically, Reynier highlights that in the essay entitled ‘This is the House of Commons’, Woolf wishes ‘to do away with “the age of aristocracy”, built around literal or metaphoric statues erected to the memory of the great’ (84) while ‘indirectly voic[ing] the difficulty of reeducating the British people’s minds into disregarding great men’ (59), and we may add, now, great, white women. Indeed, Monica Ali entitles her rewriting of this essay, in which she also ponders over statues and democracy, ‘After Woolf’ (2006), and one cannot help thinking that ‘after’, here, hints both at the continuing influence Woolf and her work wield on British culture, and on those who, just like Monica Ali in this specific text, walk in her footsteps,6 but also at the fault lines that separate contemporary Britain from Woolf.

  • 7 I would like to thank Shilo McGiff for our generative conversations on both Woolf’s faults and her (...)

23To return to the quotation on which this article opened—‘her “intention” survives; the interest of her theory redeems much that is faulty in her practice’ (Woolf (1931) 2009, 524)—I would argue that settling into the figure of a great woman went against Woolf’s intentions, and although many of those intentions did survive, I’d like to recall one that may have gone unnoticed but which seems to provide an apt if, as always, ambivalent retort both to the whole bust affair, and to the statue wars; an intention which I think should be included by Camden Council in the notice they will, I hope, attach to Woolf’s bust: ‘let us give up making statues and inscribing them with impossible virtues’ (Woolf 2013, 63).7

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1 See for instance A. S. Byatt, Passions of the Mind (1991), Rachel Cusk, Coventry (2019), Maggie Gee, Virginia Woolf in Manhattan (2014), Ali Smith, Shire (2013), Kabe Wilson, ‘On Being Still’ (2020)—in which Wilson articulates Woolf’s racism, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the British culture/statue wars.

2 These issues, and most specifically the question of Woolf, Bloomsbury, and racism, have recently been addressed by American scholar Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina—author of the acclaimed Black London (1995), updated and republished under the title Black England in 2022—in the plenary lecture entitled “Rethinking Bloomsbury and Race in the Wake of BLM” she gave at the 31st Annual International Virginia Woolf Conference: Virginia Woolf and Ethics, organised by Amy Smith at Lamar University (Texas), see Gerzina.

3 On ‘gender-critical feminism’, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, and anti-trans activism, see Saul.

4 On these highly topical questions, see also La disgrâce des statues : Essai sur les conflits de mémoire, de la Révolution française à Black Lives Matter (Tillier).

5 A 2017 YouGov survey showed that these three newspapers are perceived as right-wing—by 81% of the respondents for The Daily Mail, 76% for The Telegraph, and 71% for The Times; The Guardian was seen as a left-wing newspaper by 71% of people surveyed (see Matthew Smith). The online magazine UnHerd argues ‘We are not aligned with any political party’ (, The Critic states that its writers ‘subscribe to no editorial line nor serve the interests of any party, faction or cause’ (

6 In her article on the intertextual relations between Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925), Friedman notably evokes how Ali transposes elements from Woolf’s novel ‘into a late twentieth-century migration narrative’ (106) which highlights issues of social, racial, and gendered privilege (Friedman).

7 I would like to thank Shilo McGiff for our generative conversations on both Woolf’s faults and her statues. Shilo’s pastoral vision of a site-specific, elemental, Woolfian memorial informs the conclusion of this article.

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Valérie Favre, « Faulty Woolf? Exploring the Fault Lines of Virginia Woolf’s Heritage in the British Statue Wars »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 64 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2023, consulté le 29 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Valérie Favre

Valérie Favre is a senior lecturer in English at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research focuses on Virginia Woolf and her literary, critical, and feminist receptions in England, Northern America, and France. She has published several articles and book chapters on the heritage of A Room of One’s Own and on the feminist iconisation of Woolf, including: ‘A Room of One’s Own’s (Resistance to) Feminist Interpretations and Feminism’ (Ebc 58, 2020), ‘Recycling/Upcycling the Iconic Woolf? Negotiating Woolf as a Literary and Feminist Icon in Kabe Wilson’s Of One Woman or So, by Olivia N’Gowfri’ (in Recycling Woolf in Contemporary Art and Literature, Latham, Marie & Rigeade (eds.), Routledge, 2021), “The Token Woman of 1922? Virginia Woolf and the Gendered Battles of Anglo-American Modernist Criticism’ (Études Anglaises 75.3, 2022). With Shilo McGiff, she has coedited issue 99 of the Virginia Woolf Miscellany, entitled ‘Portmanteau Woolf’ (2022).

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